A Travellerspoint blog

Germany - Harz Mountains - Brocken, Misery and Worries

The highest top of the Harz was an espionage station during the Cold War. The villages nearby are called Elend (Misery) and Sorge (Worries). We tried to find out why, and travelled to the top in style with the old steam train.

large_ca5cb780-4ada-11e8-8966-abc3ce5c0742.jpg
Postcard made by Alfred Hoppe (1906-1985) for the then East German company VEB Volkskunstverlag Reichenbach. We found no present owners of copyright. Courtesy website http://www.ddr-comics.de/ak.htm

For decades the Harz was less peaceful than it is now. It was divided by the Iron Curtain, the border between East and West. A broad restricted zone between two worlds: capitalism and communism, political blocks that were each other's worst enemies. The strip along the border was no-man's land. And of course both parties tried to spy on each other. The highest top of the Harz, the Brocken, was one of the Sovjet Block's listening stations. There were buildings in which the communists tried to listen into (and intercept) all radio communication from the West that could be important from a political or military perspective.

Germany - Harz - Brocken - between the villages of "Misery" and "Worries"

Germany - Harz - Brocken - between the villages of "Misery" and "Worries"

Nowadays, tourists can make a long hike to the top through the beautiful, forested nature. Or they can take the ancient steam train up there. When they arrive, the place may still look as mysterious as it used to be. The solid grim buildings are still there, often hidden on the fog, because the Brocken mountain top is hidden in the clouds a good part of the year.

large_1829587_14151882824359.jpg

In the morning we drove to the Brocken area. When we tried to find out from where we could take that old train, we looked at the map and noticed two villages with very strange names: Elend (which means Misery), and Sorge (which means Worries). We decided to find out the origin of these strange names, and then take the steam train from there. Both villages are actually located in the middle of beautiful nature, especially in autumn when the leaves start to color orange, red, yellow and brown. So, why these unhappy village names then?

  • Sorge: The name "Sorge" does indeed mean Worries in today's German, as well as in the Ancient Central German language ("Sorga"). In the old days living in far and remote villages was not easy. Especially during winter the villages were sometimes very isolated for a long time, so that food supply depended totally on what the local people could preserve from their harvest season. Snow could make roads inaccessible for weeks, sometimes months. Therefore the people who lived there really had a lot of Worries of how to survive. Every year again.
  • Elend: It would be easy to think that the name "Elend", which means Misery in modern German, has a similar background as its neighbor village Sorge, but this is not completely true. In a blog on German broadcaster SWF's website, Prof. Dr. Konrad Kunze, emeritus professor in German linguistics at the University of Freiburg, gives the answer. The name "Elend" comes from the ancient High-German term "alia landa", which meant something like "outside of the land". The term was used to describe isolated places that were out in the wastelands. So the name didn't have a direct relationship with the living conditions, but with the geographical position. However, it is easy to imagine that in cold winters Elend must have seen quite a bit of Misery.
  • The times of hardship in Sorge and Elend were not limited to the very ancient times only. During the communist rule, both villages were inside the forbidden area, the "Strip of Death", and they were therefore no-go area for anyone except the military. If you see the very peaceful two villages now, connected with the outside world by very good roads and by (steam) train, it is hard to imagine how it must have been there long ago.

When we arrived in Elend, we saw literally nobody there. We parked our car next to the deserted railway station to find out if, and at what time a train would arrive to take us to the Brocken. Just when we looked for a time table, we heard a loud steam whistle from the woods and the heavy puffing sound of a steam locomotive. A minute later the train slowly rolled into the station. We asked the conductor about schedule, directions and ticket fare to the Brocken, and he said we had to change trains at the next station Drei-Annen-Hohne. The tickets we could buy from him, so we had to decide instantly. Our car was not even locked yet, but parked too far for the remote control key! Because the place looked peaceful enough and did not seem like a hot-spot for thieves, we decided to take the risk and got on board.

large_1829587_14151882806345.jpg

After a short and beautiful ride through the forest, the train rolled into the station of Drei-Annen-Hohne. It is where passengers change from one ancient train to another, so this is really a favorite spot for people who like old trains. Along the tracks we saw that many people, also non-passengers, were taking pictures.

Because we had to wait for half an hour, we bought some really good, tasty and steaming hot German Bratwursts with bread, and a few cans of beer, from a stand on the platform. This was very welcome because it started to get cold and a bit cloudy. It was a good thing that we did that also for a different reason, as we would find out later. (See also the practical tips at he bottom of this page.)

large_1829587_14151882818029.jpg
Germany - Harz - Brocken - the steam train to the mountain top

Germany - Harz - Brocken - the steam train to the mountain top

We got on the next train and after a while it started to move. Steam everywhere around and the smells, smoke and sounds that belong to a ride like this. We felt like we were half a century back in time. The first part of the journey went through dense forests, changing from spruce to pine woods as the train started to climb steeply. There were a few little tunnels on the way, carved out in the rocks. After about half an hour the forest got thinner and the landscape got more barren. The closer we were getting to the top of the Brocken, the thicker the fog.

On the top of the Brocken we could hardly see 50 meters ahead of us. The view, that seems to be fabulous from there, was none. Zero. Still we liked it because in the mist we could vaguely see the contours of a few grim, solid buildings, one with a dome, the other one more like a square tower. The mist made them look menacing, mysterious and hostile. So, this was where it all happened. This is where all sorts of secret operations were coordinated, radio communications were listened out, and from where the East Block kept a constant eye on its enemies in the West.

large_1829587_14151882797314.jpg
Germany - Harz - Brocken - the mysterious Cold War espionage station

Germany - Harz - Brocken - the mysterious Cold War espionage station

On apparently the highest point there is a monument and a heap of stones, with pointers showing the different directions. We found it sort of pointless, especially without the view.

large_1829587_14151882785767.jpg

It is not unjust to say that the Brocken may be a bit overrated. Apart from the strange atmosphere and knowing the history, we felt like the real attraction is in the trip to go up there, but not in actually being up there.

It was not only foggy, it was bloody cold too. We needed some hot soup or something. There is a restaurant, but really it is more like a canteen. The prices for food are ridiculous and the choice is very limited. We were happy that we had our lunch in the form of the Bratwurst down in the village, so all we ordered was an overpriced bowl of pea soup (which was so-so) and an equally overpriced cup of coffee (very bad) from the unfriendly and grumpy counter staff. These people were so grumpy that we started wondering if this was perhaps part of the entourage. Maybe this was meant to keep alive the image that people have about the Vopo's, the infamous East-German Volkspolizei? Later we discovered that most online reviews about this restaurant are very negative. And rightly so! We can suggest anyone to not waste any money at the top of the Brocken on food or drinks. It is much better to just buy something down in the village, and to bring it in your rucksack if you like.

Of course, we did not let this Cold War experience spoil our mood. When we were in the train back down the mountain, the sun started to shine again. We decided not to stay on the train all the way back, but to step off at the tiny station of Schierke, and hike from there through the forest down to Elend, where our car was. It was a very nice walk, steeply down through the forest where we enjoyed to see many different mushrooms (see WARNING at the bottom of this page!).

deb67f10-4add-11e8-8cdd-c9bfb1d597e3.jpgde9cdc90-4add-11e8-8132-bd7bf05d950b.jpgdea73cd0-4add-11e8-a710-098247092c92.jpgde9625d0-4add-11e8-b9c6-25396e441e3e.jpg1829587_14152099686703.jpg1829587_14152099605403.jpgde95fec0-4add-11e8-968d-2bb1a45231d5.jpgde85d220-4add-11e8-b38c-0f755ec3284b.jpg1829587_14152099618917.jpg

Fortunately, the car was still there and nothing had been stolen. Before driving back home we made a last stop in the historic, but very touristic town of Wernigerode, where we had a drink, and then it was time to drive back home.

large_de922e30-4add-11e8-a219-651be6807a1f.jpglarge_dec63680-4add-11e8-a219-651be6807a1f.jpglarge_debb3a00-4add-11e8-b9c6-25396e441e3e.jpg

Practical tips:

  • * The Brockenbahn steam train is part of a vast network of so-called narrow gauge railroad tracks through the entire Harz area, all the way as far as Quedlinburg to the East. The trains are operated, on a daily schedule, by the company HSB (link here). They operate the railways with steam locs and ancient diesel locs. This railway network is not only used by tourists, but local people commute on it also.
  • The time table (in German) for the current year 2018 is here. The tariff (also 2018) is here. Consider to buy tickets well ahead of time, online, because in weekends and during the school holidays they may be fully sold out. Oh, we just noticed something. If you look for the price of group tickets, the English version of the page uses the word "graduation". However, they mean group size, it is definitely not limited to graduation parties ;)
  • Many people comment that a ticket with the trains to the Brocken mountain top is very expensive. This is true, but the ticket price is of course not only for some form of public transportation from A to B; it is also for covering the extreme costs of maintaining and restoring the old locomotives, wagons, stations as well as the old railroad network. Much of that work is done by volunteers, but quite a bit of material and spare parts must be specially recreated. This obviously costs lots of money. A railway company like this could never survive from charging "standard" ticket prices. So we think it is fair to keep this in mind, and we were confirmed in this by seeing how enthusiastic the volunteers tell people about their hobby.
  • If you don't want to pay the jackpot, an alternative idea may be to take the steam train on some other stretches (not up the Brocken, which is the most expensive). You can also hike up and down the mountain, which will take you a full day and burns off loads of calories, but which is very nice. It saves you a lot of money, and then you can still have the steam train experience through a beautiful area with forest, hills, nice villages and charming old railway stations.
  • In our modest opinion, you may want to give the eateries on top of the Brocken mountain a miss. Not only because of the prices, but also because of the limited choice and the attitude of the staff. We believe that as long as they don't change their policies (and staff, probably) they are a waste of money, unless you fancy a type of service that may have been common in the East Block during the Cold War. Our advice: before you take the train (or the hike) up the mountain, stock up with food and drinks and bring these with you.
  • WARNING: We mentioned something about mushrooms in the forest. In the weekends some local people will go into the forest and collect edible mushrooms. Their families have done that since centuries and they know what they are doing. YOU ALMOST CERTAINLY DON'T KNOW THIS, AND EDIBLE MUSHROOMS CAN BE CONFUSED VERY EASILY WITH LETHALLY POISONOUS MUSHROOMS. EATING THOSE CAN KILL YOU OR WILL MAKE YOU VERY SICK. Don't take this risk, EVER, unless you are together with an expert. Otherwise, don't even touch them, just buy them in the veggie shop or eat them in a restaurant!

Posted by westwind57 05:21 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains hills road_trip nature hiking history germany forest mystery quedlinburg misery worries wernigerode cold_war witchcraft brocken steam_locomotive harz espionage bodetal elend sorge Comments (0)

Germany - Harz Mountains - Teufelsmauer, the Devil's Wall

Does Germany really have something with walls? We went to the wall that was built and destroyed by the Devil himself, one of Germany's strangest geological features.

Germany - Harz - Thale - Teufelsmauer (Devil's Wall)

Germany - Harz - Thale - Teufelsmauer (Devil's Wall)

People seem to have something particular with walls. They seem to think that walls protect them, or separate them from the evil world out there. For thousands of years, country rulers have built walls to impress "the enemy" and to fool their own people into a false sense of security. Or to self-gratify their own megalomaniac ego's and to leave their personal mark in history. The Chinese rulers did it for thousands of years, starting with the Qin Dynasty. The Israeli's did it. Trump is doing it right now, and indeed, the East Germans did it. Walls may stand for a long time, but history also shows that walls are torn down sooner or later, at least partially.

So, building walls (and destroying them, at some point of time) seems like a human trait. But is it really? Or is it a more fundamental part of nature? Or perhaps it is all work of the Devil?

On the northern edge of the Harz, the answer to this question seems to be given. Stretching over more than 20 kilometers, there are the leftovers of a grim, threatening wall made of rock formations, sticking out high above the surrounding landscape: the Teufelsmauer, the Devil's Wall.

  • About 145 million years ago, the Harz mountain range was formed by tectonic forces. Landmasses were pushed together and the earth crest was folded upward over a period of 80 million years. Layers of hard sandstone and softer rock types were pushed from their original horizontal position to almost vertical. The softer layers eroded away by wind, rain and other forces of nature, and the hardest sandstone layers, now standing vertically, were left over like a natural wall of rock. Over time pieces of the wall kept eroding away, must much of it is still there.

1829587_14151806642882.jpg1829587_14151806611866.jpg

The strange wall of rock has caused fear and fascination to people for many centuries. Even the famous poet Goethe was highly fascinated by the strange rock formation, but even more about the legends about it. Because in the old days people didn't know about geology, so they had to find their own explanation for what they saw. In the dark forests and mountains of central Germany, people had no shortage of myths, legends and sagas to explain natural phenomena.

So here is what happened according to the old tales, and what created the Devil's Wall:

On a certain day, the Devil approached God to resolve their differences, and to divide the nature and the land between them. God agreed with the idea, on the condition that they would place a bet. All the land that the Devil could surround with a wall during one night, until the first crowing of a rooster, would become his property. The Devil agreed, and after sunset he started to build the wall, and worked his butt off to enclose as much land as he could.

Long before sunrise, a farmer's wife walked by. She was going to the market, far away, to sell her chicken and roosters that she had in a basket. When she saw the Devil, still working hard to build the wall, she got very frightened. She wanted to run away, but she fell.

At that moment, even though it was still pitch dark, one of the roosters in her basket started to crow. The Devil heard this, and he thought his time was up, long before he expected it. He got so frustrated and angry, that he destroyed much of the wall that he just built. The pieces that are left over are what we now can see as the Teufelsmauer, the Devil's Wall.

large_ebf31f50-4ac2-11e8-9d89-a941b1ce8b74.jpg
large_ebb37e40-4ac2-11e8-be17-9d8e8d829cc1.jpg

There are various places where you can see the Devils Wall. The place where you can see that the rock formations really look like a half-destroyed wall is very close to Thale, just south of the village of Wellersleben. For people who want to hike: there is a 35 kilometers long walking route, that follows the Devil's wall all the way from there to the other end, near Blankenburg. The path is well marked, and at some places you can climb the Devil's Wall.

large_1829587_14153174083123.jpg

When we visited the place near Wellersleben, the strangeness of the Devil's Wall was even more intense by a strange bird sound that we heard high in the sky. When we looked up, we saw many crane birds flying in formation to the South, "talking" to each other all the way. This is quite a rare thing to see and hear in many places, but Thale and Quedlinburg are places on their yearly migration route. Perhaps the Devil's Wall has always been one of their orientation points?

Posted by westwind57 00:32 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains hills road_trip nature hiking history germany forest mystery quedlinburg misery worries wernigerode cold_war witchcraft brocken steam_locomotive harz espionage thale bodetal Comments (0)

Germany - Harz Mountains - Bodetal, a canyon with a legend

A "canyon", carved out by the Bode river stretches between two small villages: Thale and Treseburg. It is a great hike deep down there. Two cliffs on either side hold tales of dancing witches and an unlucky king's daughter.

Wandering old roads and paths through the woods and places with old history is part of traditional culture for young and old in Germany. There is a whole network of routes. People use cards to keep track of the routes that they have done, with chopping stations even in the most remote places. These are often just a rain-protected little table or shelf, with a chop and ink cushion. Going for a hike like this is a favorite family thing in the weekend.

large_6d472870-4a4c-11e8-928c-bb0b05080d96.jpg

The small town of Thale is located in the Harzvorland, freely translated the periphery of the Harz. The Bode river comes to there from Treseburg, a village about 10 kilometers upstream. Between Treseburg and Thale is one of the biggest rock formations north of the Alps. And Bode river has carved its own "canyon" of a few hundred meters deep though that formation.

One of Germany's famous Wanderwege (hiking paths) follows the Bode river all along in the bottom of the canyon. Ever since people can remember, this path has had a magic attraction to hikers, also in the DDR years. "Doing" the Bodetal hike from Thale to Treseburg (and/or vice versa) is almost like a pilgrimage for many Germans.

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - DDR postcard by artist Alfred Hoppe nr 8011 see note

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - DDR postcard by artist Alfred Hoppe nr 8011 see note


Courtesy this website. We checked but no mention was made of current copyrights for this card. The card has been designed by artist Alfred Hoppe (1906-1985) from Leipzig, for the then East-German publisher VEB Volkskunstverlag Reichenbach.

On our trip of 2017, we arrived in Thale on an early Saturday morning. There is a hot spring building with German style spa facilities and also there are some attractions for kids. Next to the road we saw a Trabi dating from ancient times in "good old East Germany", which was parked along the walking path to advertise for the local DDR museum.

  • One shouldn't underestimate: the German unification has not been easy for everyone, especially in Eastern Germany. There are plenty of (mostly old) people who think back with nostalgia of those years. People were not rich and not free, but life was predictable people knew what the future would hold. A certain level of safety, security, predictability, basic but free health- and other care, nothing much, but no real poverty either. So it is not too difficult to imagine that there is interest in a DDR museum.

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - Trabi advertizing the DDR museum

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - Trabi advertizing the DDR museum


Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - the entrance in Thale

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - the entrance in Thale

On the Thale end of the canyon, two legendary cliffs are facing each other, on each side of the canyon. One is called the Hexentanzplatz (the witches' dancing place), which can be reached by road, hiking paths or with a cable car. The other cliff is the Roßtrappe. The name means something like the footprint of the horse. Both cliffs are part of the highlands of the huge sandstone massif, through which the Bode has carved out its own canyon. The Roßtrappe can be reached by sort of a skilift.

Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe

Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe


Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe

Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe


Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe

Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe


Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe

Germany - Harz - Bodetal - above the canyon at Roßtrappe


large_997de7b0-4a4e-11e8-bd64-131c43ef0391.jpg
large_6d472870-4a4c-11e8-928c-bb0b05080d96.jpg

We decided to go up there because we were told that from there you can see much of the deep canyon. That was no exaggeration: the views are stunning, especially with the leaves starting to color, and you can clearly see the depth, where (somewhere underneath the trees) the river and the hiking path must be. Where we had bought the ticket we got a description and a little map, and from this we also found out the legend about the Roßtrappe.

  • Many, many centuries ago there was a king's daughter, called Brunhilde. She was a very beautiful girl and loved to ride her horse in the forest. There were many small kingdoms in those years, so there were also many kings around. One of them was the rude, uncivilized and rough King Bodo. He had a crunch on Brunhilde, but she had no feelings whatsoever for this much older, disgusting man. One day, when he saw her riding in the forest, high on the cliff, he gave his horse the spurs and started to chase her. In desparate fear for this man, Brunhilde made her horse take a jump, trying to fly all the way over the canyon to Hexentanzplatz cliff on the other side. Her horse put so much power in the jump that a large deep horseshoe imprint in the solid rock can still be seen there in our times. Miraculously she and her horse made it to the other side, but unfortunately she did lose her crown in the jump. King Bodo and his horse did not even closely made the giant leap, and both fell to death into the 250 meters deep canyon. Bodo's fate was that he, in the form of a vicious black dog, will forever have to guard the place where Brunhilde's crown should have fallen into the wild Bode river. Bodo, as a black dog, is still roaming around the bottom of the canyon, even today. The crown has never been found back.

After we came back, it was amusing to see that the Trabi, although advertizing for the Greater Good of Thale, had a parking ticket under its window wipers. "Ordnung muß sein." Law and order, East-German style...

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - now he got a parking ticket!

Germany - Harz - Bodetal canyon - now he got a parking ticket!

The previous time that we were here, in 2014, we did the hike from Thale to Treseburg. It is a very beautiful walk along a path that is well paved on some places, but on other places you really have to pass heaps of rocks and boulders. Meanwhile the path follows the river through mostly dense spruce forest. In the autumn the colors are stunning, especially when the sun comes through. Between Thale and Treseburg there are no café's or restaurants, so one should bring some drinks and something to eat. Walking at an easy pace, one should count with at least three hours, especially if taking short breaks on the way.

1829587_14151803726250.jpg
1829587_14151803731361.jpg
large_6bcdcee0-4a4c-11e8-b4ea-7b183efe09f9.jpg
large_1829587_14151803675338.jpg
large_1829587_14151803651909.jpg
large_6a6abc70-4a4c-11e8-9a22-0f2ae98d3998.jpg
large_1829587_14151803695905.jpg
large_1829587_14151803715842.jpg

In Treseburg there are a few restaurants with nice terraces outside. They serve elaborate lunches, but also Eintopf, a thick soup that with some bread easily counts as a meal. Or coffee and apple or forest fruit pastry. Or a good glass of beer or wine, obviously.

  • There is a bus connection from Treseburg back to Thale, and it is easy to find, on the crossroad just across the bridge. However, people should keep in mind that the bus goes only a few times per day. You'd better check the schedule before going to eat or drink something at the restaurants. We did not do so, missed the last bus on a Saturday afternoon, and had to wait for many hours, or walk back, or ask the restaurant to call a taxi. We were tired enough to go for the taxi option which cost us something between Euro 20 - 30.

Posted by westwind57 15:23 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains hills road_trip nature hiking history germany forest mystery quedlinburg misery worries wernigerode cold_war witchcraft brocken steam_locomotive harz espionage thale bodetal Comments (0)

Germany - Harz Mountains - beautiful old town of Quedlinburg

During our autumn trips this gorgeous and romantic old town has been our base.

Quedlinburg is not Europe's most famous tourism destination. For us, however, it is a hidden jewel and our favorite little town to stay when we are visiting the Harz for a long weekend. With most of the attractive places on an easy one hour's drive or less, makes us feel like having landed a few centuries back in time. Of course modern times have not left this town unaffected, but there is something in the atmosphere. The well-preserved buildings maybe, the unpretentious hotels, inns and restaurants, the castle or the market, it is probably the combination of these.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Casle hill, towering above the old town

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Casle hill, towering above the old town

We have been to Quedlinburg twice now in the autumn, most recently in 2017, and enjoyed ourselves tremendously both times. We stayed in Hotel Garni Adelheid the first time, and in hotel Zum Bär at the Marktplatz the second time. Both were good choices.

  • Most reviews on Tripadvisor and Booking.com are more or less how we experienced it. Many are originally in German, so please beware the lousy automatic translation systems: the English translations often make no sense at all, as if foreign languages are something like a Neanderthaler grumble, and a review that is translated 100% accurately is a rarity. This doesn't matter if a destination is reviewed mostly by English speaking people, but this is more a "national destination" for Germans, so decently worded English reviews are few and far between. See also practical tips below.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Hotel Garni Adelheid-inner court

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Hotel Garni Adelheid-inner court


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, hotel Zum Bär at the market square

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, hotel Zum Bär at the market square

The name of Quedlinburg as an estate or town was first mentioned in records of 922 A.D., although it is known that there was already a settlement here some 100 years before (Gross Orden). These were the "darker" parts of early medieval times, about which not very much is known, after the collapse of the empire of Charles the Great (Charlemagne). The early history of Quedlinburg has been found back in monastic records in Corvey, much more in the Southwest of Germany.

Quedlinburg can be considered as the cradle of the German Ottonian Empire that started with a king, Henry the Fowler (Heinrich der Vögler), who was offered the crown by local noble families in 919 A.D. This is why next year (2019) will be a festive year in Quedlinburg.

  • As a side note, it is better not to call a German man a "Vögler", especially not in the presence of his wife. The verb "vögeln" has an alternative meaning, as in "vögeln kann er, aber fliegen nicht.". This is what the wife said, when she threw her husband out of the window, after finding him in bed with another woman...

Back to history now. Henry died in 936 A.D. and his son Otto I (later called Otto the Great) succeeded him. First as a king, but in 962 A.D. he became the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (which, by the way, has nothing to do with Ancient Rome). Meanwhile, Otto I built a castle and Henry's wife Matilda had started a monastery for nuns, both located on the castle hill, which dominates Quedlinburg. The monastery was built officially to commemorate Henry, but it actually provided education to daughters of noble families. Matilda died in 968 A.D. The remains of her and Henry are buried in the crypt of St. Servatius Church, built on the foundations of the original monastery.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, St. Servatius church at castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, St. Servatius church at castle hill


ded79980-4a0a-11e8-baa3-5dddc5547a3a.jpg
Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, inside the fortification of castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, inside the fortification of castle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, castle hill with abbey and church

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, castle hill with abbey and church

The grand-daughter of the couple, also called Matilda, became the abbess. It is said that she, just like her grandmother, did spend a lot on charity. Also the institute provided secular education for women, including those born from lower ranked families in the society, which was an extremely progressive policy in those ages. All through history, the abbey and monastery have been led by females, abbesses, and the women staying in the monastery could even get married if they wished so, without losing their rights. This approach, which started with both Matilda's, did not always land well with conservative male rulers, who found that the abbesses wasted too much money from the treasury of the Empire, and obviously they found the nunnery much too liberal in empowering the women. But no matter how hard the male half of society pressed them, the abbesses kept up this principle throughout the centuries, even until the time of Napoleon and beyond. On the castle hill and around the church there are still a lot of remains from those ancient times, and pretty good explanatory panels as well.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill


large_df13b820-4a0a-11e8-b10f-1b550699dac3.jpg

With a history like this, it was not completely surprising that during the Nazi period, Heinrich Himmler saw Quedlinburg as one of the most important historical places of Germany. Himmler obviously was a megalomaniac with an oversized ego. Sharing the same first name with King Henry I, he visited there multiple times. He saw himself as a reincarnation of Henry, whom he considered as "the most German king of Germany". The tower on the hill was 'decorated' with an Eagle, and Quedlinburg became sort of a Nazi pilgrimage destination. Perhaps some isolated shady neo-nazi characters may still see Quedlinburg that way. But today's attraction is based on history, architecture, picturesque old-town experience, heimatisches food, legends and sagas and the fantastic nature of the Harz.

In the final months of the war, the Americans occupied Quedlinburg. One of their lieutenants (as came out much later) robbed a lot of historic artefacts from there, some of which were never found back, including a 9th century handwritten gold-illustrated and jewel-covered gospel book.

After World War II, Quedlinburg became East-German territory. The new rulers apparently realized that Quedlinburg had lots of historic value that should be protected. In fact, the communists even brought in Polish workers to do a lot of conservation and restoration work.

large_dd6a26d0-4a0a-11e8-9b77-b12d2ad93457.jpg

To sum it up, Quedlinburg survived beautifully, in spite of its politically shaky history that could have led to destruction at multiple points in the past.

The castle hill gives great views over Quedlinburg and the surrounding landscape, and there is a nice terrace to take this view in over a good glass of beer. The castle and abbey church are a WHO World Heritage site since 1994.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, terrace with nice view at castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, terrace with nice view at castle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, beer with a view at castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, beer with a view at castle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from castle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, view from Casle hill

In fact, Quedlinburg has its historic center at two levels: the castle hill with the buildings and the little market square at its foot, and the lower town. The lower old town is a completely historic inner city with narrow cobble streets, traditional fachwerk houses and a beautiful market square. Everything is extremely well preserved.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Christmas decoration shop at foot of Casle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Christmas decoration shop at foot of Casle hill


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, mustard shop selling a variety that makes you feel high

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, mustard shop selling a variety that makes you feel high


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, narrow streeet lower old town

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, narrow streeet lower old town


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, watch your step!

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, watch your step!


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Christmas sales in early October

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, Christmas sales in early October

There are plenty of hotels, many of them targeting mainly German clientele. The same is true for restaurants. English is spoken by quite a few people, but definitely not by everybody or everywhere. Hotels are German style, which means that some New World visitors may find the occasional absence of ultra modern amenities outweighing the historic charm. For those who feel like they particularly need it, a few hotels are run by international chains (i.e. Wyndham Garden). By far most people will enjoy the smaller historic hotels just as much though, if not more, and they are often not too expensive.

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, smoking area at inner square of café <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, smoking area at inner square of café ;)


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, fachwerk house on way to castle hill

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, fachwerk house on way to castle hill


large_dc4ecbc0-4a0a-11e8-b10f-1b550699dac3.jpg
Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, city hall at market square

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, city hall at market square


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, market square, bank with stain glass windows

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, market square, bank with stain glass windows


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, market square

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, market square


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, a knight, guarding town hall

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg, a knight, guarding town hall

Restaurants: for those who really can't do without it, yes, there are burgers, pizza's, Turkish kebob and hotdogs available in Quedlinburg. But if you have a tiny bit of interest for the place you visit, you really should try local cuisine. There are many choices at different price levels. Pork, veal, a large variety of ham, cold cuts and sausages, fresh water fish such as trout, potatoes, vegetables are all common ingredients, often spiced with local herbs and mustard. Cooking with dark beer is a specialism, and wild mushrooms and game stews (wild boar, deer, roe, hare) should not be missed, if you visit in the season.

There are many great local beers, and very good regional wines from the Saale-Unstrutt region, the most northern well-established wine growing region in Europe (apart from the newest small scale ones in Holland, Scandinavia and even - of all places - in the UK)

Some practical things you may want to know include:

  • Quedlinburg is your destination if you go there in spring, summer or fall (foliage!). Also for the Christmas market.
  • If you go to the Harz for winter sports, it is better to stay somewhere much closer to the slopes. In that case, just plan a visit for one day.
  • Attention: if you book a hotel, also via booking sites, you may have to pay a deposit, as your credit card may not always be accepted.
  • Some restaurants and hotels may not accept credit cards or Maestro cards at all. Plenty of ATM's though. Best to have some cash in your pocket.
  • Some hotels owners may not live in the hotel. You will get a gate key on check-in, but make arrangements if your first arrival is late at night!
  • Almost all hotels are in historic houses. This means wooden floors and stairs. Small hotels may not have an elevator.
  • Parking in the old town is not easy. However, there are parking facilities on the edge of the Old Town, at short walking distance of the center.
  • Quedlinburg can be reached easily by train from places like Berlin and Magdeburg, or by car as it is close to the A6 motorway.
  • For getting around in the Harz area, there are local buses and trains, including narrow gauge historic trains that still operate on a schedule.
  • A very characteristic brewery restaurant, Bräuhaus Lüdde, is almost always fully booked. Be sure to make a reservation well ahead.

Posted by westwind57 04:22 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains hills road_trip nature hiking history germany forest mystery quedlinburg misery worries wernigerode cold_war witchcraft brocken steam_locomotive harz espionage thale bodetal Comments (0)

Germany, Harz Mountains - Nature, history, mysterious places

Stories about a gorgeous mountainous area on what used to be the border between East and West. Historic towns, dark forest, medieval witch tales, and an espionage station in the mist.

It is like a green ink spot that someone accidentally dropped on the map of Germany. It flowed out to an irregular shape, millions of years before the historic unification in 1989, and never bothered about what humans had created as the Iron Curtain between the communist and the capitalist parts of the world. This ink spot, which is a beautiful medium altitude mountain range with dense pine forest, became known in East and West as the Harz.

Overview map Harz mountains, see copyright note

Overview map Harz mountains, see copyright note

Picture used based on Creative Commons - Wikipedia rules. Owner = Bamse. Link to page is here

It seems that the name "Harz" comes from an ancient German word for forest hill. In today's German, the word Harz means resin, the sticky gluey syrup underneath the bark of a tree. This name is very appropriate because this resin smell from pine and other trees is filling the air in the forests.

large_20171014_114104.jpg

The Harz is full of anything one imagines from a region like this: nature, wildlife, history, dark mysterious forests, very old towns, legends and sagas, witchcraft and pagan traditions, cosy inns with brimming fireplaces and stews of game meat and dark beer, and even one of the best networks of narrow gauge steam trains.

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - the intriguing Teufelsmauer (Devil's Wall)

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - the intriguing Teufelsmauer (Devil's Wall)


Germany - Harz - Harzer steam train network - Brockenbahn

Germany - Harz - Harzer steam train network - Brockenbahn


Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg

Germany - Harz - Quedlinburg

And you may add a good portion of tales from the Cold War area, which divided the Harz, but on the other hand it preserved the nature and the local feel. Because the immediate border between the two worlds was a no-go area for decades, and thus the nature and the small villages remained largely unaffected by industry and commerce.

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - Trabi advertizing the DDR museum

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - Trabi advertizing the DDR museum

Today, the Harz is a very nice place for tourists to visit. However, as with so many rural areas in Germany, tourism here is not a very international thing. The tourism industry exists, but it is very much focused on German clientele. English is of course spoken by young people working in the sector, and in typical tourist towns like Nordhausen or Wernigerode, but do not expect that all tourism information or restaurant menu's are multilingual.

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - where "Schwein" equals ham and sausages

Germany - Harz Mountains - Thale - where "Schwein" equals ham and sausages

It will never be admitted explicitly, but we believe that at least some German people - deep inside their hearts - would wish to keep places like this a bit for themselves, and not turn it into international tourist hypes. This is perhaps why so many beautiful parts of Germany remain somewhat "underrated". Which is fine with me, and maybe I should not even write this blog ;) . At the same time, almost all local people are very friendly and they will make sure that you, as a visitor, will feel very welcome...

Posted by westwind57 00:29 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains hills road_trip nature hiking history germany forest mystery quedlinburg misery worries wernigerode cold_war witchcraft brocken steam_locomotive harz espionage thale bodetal Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 30) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 »